Healthcare UX: 4 Ways to Prevent Your Patient Portal from Becoming a Vortex

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
Cover Image for Healthcare UX: 4 Ways to Prevent Your Patient Portal from Becoming a Vortex

The hard truth is that most healthcare patient portals are not built for patients first. They’re built for the cost-saving concerns of the business.

In our last post, we covered the four problems that most healthcare patient portals face. Now, it’s time for some solutions.

We’ve been working on healthcare websites, mobile apps and portals for more than 20 years and we’ve seen a lot of things go wrong. Here are four key ways that you can prevent your patients from getting lost in the vortex of a poorly designed and executed portal.

Solution #1: Get to know your users

It seems obvious, but the best way to build a useful and effective portal is to put in the time and effort upfront to understand the real-world needs of each of your users. Most healthcare providers boil down their users to a few general user types - patients, physicians and employers or brokers - and don’t dig any deeper than that.

But what about people who have accessibility issues? What about the health needs and technology expectations of different age groups? How does the user interface translate when a physician or their staff is moving from a tablet to a desktop and back again?

To encourage adoption and use, you need to know how to accommodate the needs of administrative staff looking for insurance information, patients looking for doctors, and physicians looking for in-depth health history. Then you need to find the edge use cases and build solutions to address those on the margins.

Taking the time to understand who you’re supporting with the portal and how you can best support their real-world needs will save you time redesigning it later when you find nobody is using it.

Solution #2: Don’t settle for the same old solutions

We’ve had many conversations with healthcare product teams who desperately want to improve their user experience but tell us there’s nothing they can do about the worst parts of that experience. Why? Because they’re forced to use third-party tools that give them no control over the UI or functionality.

Chances are that third-party tools are here to stay because there is just too much healthcare data for one organization to manage. But that doesn’t mean the tools have to feel like they came from the 90s. We’ve helped teams overcome many of the obstacles inherent in healthcare to find creative solutions that bring modern design principles to old tools and methods.

We do this by focusing on the small opportunities wherever they exist. You may not be able to completely build a new Find a Doctor tool from scratch. But what can you do to take the data from the existing tool and re-imagine how it’s presented? Can you challenge the status quo by requiring the developers of your third-party tools to offer better APIs with more UI customization?

By insisting on good tools and design principles wherever possible, you can begin to take back some of the control you’ve given up to these third-party tools and requirements and advocate for the needs of your users in the process. All it takes is the courage to break free from the functional and familiar to uncover the innovative and delightful.

Solution #3: Resist the kitchen sink approach

Healthcare portals are designed to be many things for many people. But that doesn’t mean they should be all things for all people. It’s easy to think of all the features that could be included in a portal, but it’s much harder to think of the things that should be left out of it. That’s an even harder decision in healthcare, where there are regulations that make it impossible to eliminate certain options or features.

We’ve found the best approach to this is to sit down with the people who need to use your portal and understand what is most important to them on a daily basis. Identifying the two or three things that each user type needs the most will help you narrow in on the priorities that need to be available within one click (or less).

Your portal is still likely to have a ton of features, some of which only get used occasionally, but by making the experience as good as possible for the features that are most important you’ll help users feel comfortable looking for and finding the other edge case features when they need them.

There will always be edge cases and one-off needs, but if you can knock out the most urgent and important actions and information needs you’ll be able to prioritize what is delivered to them in different contexts and on various devices.

Solution #4: Take the journey with your users

Many healthcare patients don’t know where to begin when faced with a new portal they have to use. Many healthcare organizations don’t know where to begin in helping them navigate that journey.

That’s why it’s so important to map out the journey your users will be taking and find ways to be with them every step of the way. Help them understand the pieces that are confusing. Guide them to the next linear step or related features that they may not know about. Confirm the information they’ve submitted and clearly communicate to them where they’ve been, where they are and where they can go next.

In the rush to push out something basically functional and operational, most well-meaning healthcare providers and their product teams overlook the importance of seeing the entire forest for the trees. You need to understand the full journey so you can build the helpful moments that will get your users through that journey. Reduce friction as much as possible and the entire portal will feel new and innovative while remaining compliant with laws and regulations.

Need a fresh take? We can help.

Our perspective on these challenges and solutions is not just a theoretical approach to an interesting problem. We’ve been in the weeds on these things working them out with organizations that want help getting to the next level in a highly restrictive regulatory environment.

We know how to navigate the complexity of healthcare portals to deliver simplicity that allows users to get what they need and feel good while doing it. Need a fresh perspective on your healthcare portal? Let’s start a conversation and see how we can combine efforts to deliver delight to all your users.